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Birding Costa Rica caribbean slope Introduction lowlands

Great Mid-day Birding on the La Selva Entrance Road

“La Selva” is the term that birders and biologists use for the O.T.S. La Selva Biological Station. Although there are lots of places to watch a lot of birds in Costa Rica, La Selva is one of the better known sites on the block. Biologists, birders, and people who happen to be particularly enthused about  neotropical biodiversity have been going to this haven for decades. The first visitors had to arrive by boat to a station surrounded by large areas of primary forest. Oooh, that sounds nice and what an amazing place it must have been!

Check out Slud’s notes on surveying birds at La Selva during the 50s to get an idea of what the avifauna was like when the surrounding area was mostly forested. I’m not sure if he mentions it, but others have told me that Great Jacamar was regular, Golden-crowned Spadebill and Black-faced Antthrush were very common, and even Harpy Eagle was present. Since those glory days for birds and healthy rainforest ecosystems, deforestation just outside of La Selva has taken its toll on the species that live within the boundaries of the station. Although the forests in the reserve are intact, larger areas of contiguous forest are probably needed to sustain healthy populations of various animals that live there. Throw other edge effects into the mix, including an overabundance of Collared Peccaries that have a detrimental impact on the forest understory (by devouring everything), and the place doesn’t exactly mirror Slud’s experiences (nor others who worked there during the 70s and 80s).

Can we please cull and eat some of these?

Most understory species have become very rare, and various other bird species have declined but there is hope. Yes, there is hope and you can see it when you bird the entrance road. Not too long ago, this part of La Selva was young second growth but bird it nowadays and you can see a lot of forest species. Those regenerating areas do indeed provide habitat for a lot  of birds and one sees a lot more forest species compared to 15 or even 10 years ago. It also shows that if we let enough forest come back in other areas next to La Selva, in time, it may once again support similar numbers of species and individuals. It will take a while, but the sooner we can get started, the better. Since that would also involve reforesting of private land used for farming Teak and other cash crops, the solution is far from straightforward but there are solutions, they are just harder to find.

Ok, so now for some birds. While guiding the other day, after a morning at El Tapir, I decided to check out the La Selva entrance road to see if we could find some of the lowland targets needed by my client. Despite it being the true blue middle of the day, it was pretty darn good!

We had nice looks at Squirrel Cuckoos.
This Stripe-breasted Wren was also hanging out in the thick stuff.
Always nice to see a jacamar.

We saw most of our birds just hanging out near the stream as bird species eventually vocalized and/or passed through their territories.

Including Chestnut-colored Woodpeckers that performed at eye level!
The male liked the camera too.
We also saw White-ringed Flycatchers way up in the canopy as usual.

To see a list of the birds that were identified, here is a link to the eBird list for that birdy pause during the day. I would love to survey that are at dawn to see what shows up!

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Birding Costa Rica birds to watch for in Costa Rica caribbean foothills Hummingbirds Introduction

Yesterday’s Highlights from Birding in Costa Rica at El Tapir

It’s the day after guiding at El Tapir and it’s hard to believe that less than 24 hours ago, I was looking at White-ruffed Manakins and listening to the whistles of hidden wood-wrens. Such is the big old contrast between a computer desk and the humid, dim interior of rainforest. There weren’t any crazy highlights but we had some nice birds nonetheless. The antithesis of a highlight was the odd absence of the Snowcap. Odd, because I have never not seen that fantastic hummingbird at El Tapir. I hope they come back soon and have not returned to the dream dimension to which they obviously belong.

Yes, this bird is from a dream dimension.

No Snowcaps, but we did see some other nice birds, one of which is easy to hear but is a menace to try and see. That toughy was a Nightingale Wren and oh how nice it was to come in and hang out a few short meters from our feet.

What a Nightingale Wren usualy looks like.
Now you know why the Nightingale Wren prefers to stay out of sight- it looks kind of like a piece of dirt.
Another look at this ridiculously reclusive rainforest soprano.

If you hear someone whistling out of tune in foothill rainforest, you are listening to a Nightingale Wren and not a short, bearded fellow with a pointed red hat (although some claim to have seen those beings in the forest as well).

No elves but we did have a nice view from an overlook. It was not so easy to get to this spot.

Other “good” birds we saw inside the rainforest were Spotted Antbird, Pale-vented Thrush, Lattice-tailed Trogon, Tawny-faced Gnatwren, Tawny-crested Tanager, and a bunch of White-ruffed Manakins.

Male White-ruffed Manakin.

The manakins were feeding on fruiting Melastomes. Several other birds paid visits to those important trees too but no hoped for cotingas or random Sharpbill.

Back out in the hummingbird garden, we were treated to one of the other top candidates for bird of the day, a male Black-crested Coquette. We got to watch that fine little bird as much as we wanted along with a couple of Green Thorntails, Crowned Woodnymph, and Violet-headed Hummingbirds among the over-abundant Rufous-taileds.

We often saw it through the flower stems.
Then it would fly into view.
Or put its head into the flowers.
Scoped views on a perch were also nice!

I will be at El Tapir again within a week for another Snowcap vigil. I hope they come back from their vacation from parts unknown.

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Birding Costa Rica birds to watch for in Costa Rica high elevations Introduction

A Friendly Buff-fronted Quail-Dove at Monteverde

For birders in North America, a quail-dove is far from familiar. Certain other dove species might be as normal in the yard as the family dog but not yee quail-doves. In the official ABA area, the main dove/quail that we hope to see is the one named after an island and seeing it is no easy task. The Ruddy is also possible but that would be an even bigger, rarer prize.

A Ruddy Quail-Dove from Luna Lodge, Costa Rica, a place where it is common.

Even if quail-doves did breed and thrive in Florida, they would still be a challenge because that’s the quail-dove M.O. no matter where you yield your bins. Unlike the happy go lucky Cooper’s Hawk prey item known as the Mourning Dove (now you know why they are always mourning…), or the bold and permanently unphased Rock Pigeon, the quail-doves are opposed to the limelight. Heck, given their skulking behavior, they are pretty much opposed to any light. Like miniature fangless vamps, the quail-doves stick to the shade like its going out of style and give new meaning to “agoraphobia”. To see them, one usually has to sneak through dense forest to glimpse one as it scurries off the trail in search of deeper, darker thickets. As one may surmise, they are typical pains but every once in a while, a quail-dove manages to ignore its birder frustrating genes and come out into the open.

A brave Buff-fronted Quail-Dove.

It’s a rare occurrence indeed but can happen, especially on rainy and/or very cloudy days (don’t forget that these terrestrial doves are related to vampires…). It also seems more likely to happen in places where they are used to people. One such locale is the Monteverde Reserve. Bird those trails and you have a pretty good chance of glimpsing a Buff-fronted Quail-Dove. Or, you might even get lucky with the super friendly quail-dove that hangs around the parking lot!

The Monteverde parking lot Buff-fronted Quail-Dove (aka "Super Friendly")
It wasn't even shy about turning its back to us.

This Buff-fronted friend shows up now and then at the edge of the parking lot and maybe on a regular basis. It still likes things quiet and stays away from people but the open, friendly, and attention getting attitude (for a quail-dove) is downright astounding. To see this bird, just keep checking the edges of the parking lots at Monteverde, especially when few people are around. The one we watched would have stayed longer if a motorcycle hadn’t ridden up to within one meter of it (although I couldn’t blame it for scooting back into the forest at that point).

The Buff-fronted Quail-Dove motorcycle run.
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Birding Costa Rica birds to watch for in Costa Rica high elevations Introduction

Starting 2015 with Costa Rican Pygmy Owls and Quetzals

A week ago, a large percentage of us humans celebrated the start of another new year with best wishes and the usual countdown. It’s hard for me to take it seriously because calendars are totally subjective but it’s always a nice excuse for a party as well as the spreading of good vibes. For birders, that major calendar change also represents a chance to start counting birds once again to see how many you can identify over the next twelve months. It also acts as a time to review the birds you would like to see and tell yourself, that yes, this year, I am going to see that damn Black Rail, a Boreal Owl, or some other evasive avian creature.

This one is royalty when it comes to being evasive.

As for myself, I haven’t made any plans or statements for 2015. Sure, I would like to see a Spotted Rail but I’m going to be Zen about the whole thing and try for new birds when I can (not too many for me to try for in Costa Rica and the Masked Duck can of course va fa in ….). I will also keep track of the birds I see but think I will do so with eBird. I can’t even recall what my first bird of the year was but no matter because I saw a bunch of good ones between the 2nd and the 4th. During those dates, I was guiding/birding on Cerro de la Muerte and stayed at Myriam’s Cabins.

One of the cabins

Although the diversity was naturally low, quality was high with most species being highland endemics.

We saw several Flame-throated Warblers.
Quite a few Long-tailed Silky-Flycatchers were also around.
Sooty Thrushes were common.

Up on the paramo, after a bit of searching, we eventually connected with the junco, wren, and finch (Peg-billed).

Volcano Junco!

Over at Georgina, searching the primary forests failed to find the jay but we did get the quetzal in the afternoon. Luckily, good old serpent tail sang a couple of times and a female flew in. After bad looks, a male zipped through the canopy and perched for walk away views. Yee haw!

The colors really stood out from the surrounding woods.

Not long after the quetzal, I got lucky with a glimpse of a pygmy-owl flying overhead. Unfortunately, branches obscured everything but its tick-tocking tail and then it was gone. Frustration began to set in until the bird gave us a break, started calling, and eventually came close. After hiding out in the bamboo, one more bit of whistles brought it right in front of our faces.

Costa Rican Pygmy-Owl winking at us.

More walk away views ensued after seeing this tough endemic surrounded by Fiery-throated Hummingbirds.

Costa Rican Pygmy-Owl from the side.

Those were the two stars of the show but we also got most other species including Buff-fronted Quail-Dove on a likely nest at Myriam’s, Bare-shanked Screech-Owl, Spotted Wood-Quail, and super close looks at several other cool birds.

Including this Dusky Nightjar hanging out in front of the Dantica parking lot.

Despite a good deal of focused searching, we dipped on the pewee, jay, and saw-whet but found out that yes, the saw-whet is seen regularly around Myriam’s (!), and that Myriam’s also has a trail through excellent primary forest. On a disturbing note, the forest understory looks dry and rather open, and the forest looked pretty dry overall. This is not good for rainforest ecosystems adapted to getting several meters of rain per year.

Back on the good news front, Myriam’s also had nice action at the feeders, good food, and great, friendly service. Next birding stop for me might be Monteverde or maybe El Tapir. I’m not fretting though, because it’s always going to be birdy!